The Big Deal about Your Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

Cheryl O’Donoghue, Author, How to Be a Woman in Technology and How to Be an Emotionally Intelligent Leader

Cheryl O’Donoghue, Author of How to Be a Woman in Technology and How to Be an Emotionally Intelligent Leader

“Each of us has more intelligence than we are trained to use and the part that we get graded on in school doesn’t amount to much.”



I’m ecstatic that emotional intelligence is getting some well-deserved attention around the world. It’s a frequent topic at the family breakfast table and in corporate boardrooms and, quite frankly, in most scenarios where people interact with people, though they may not necessarily refer to it as Emotional Intelligence.

So, how did this notion of emotional intelligence come to be and what is it?

In the mid-1980s the work of psychologist and Harvard professor, Howard Gardner, forever changed our thinking on intelligence. Gardner is described as being one of the “top one hundred greatest thinkers of our time” and has authored more than twenty books on multiple intelligences. He helped us understand how people learn differently and that humans do not possess one type of intelligence but can actually possess, to one degree or another, up to nine different types of intelligences.

Included on Gardner’s list of multiple intelligences are: interpersonal; intrapersonal; verbal/linguistic; logical/mathematical; bodily/kinesthetic; music/rhythmic; visual/spatial; naturalist (how sensitive you are toward nature and the world around you); and existential (your ability to use collective values and intuition to understand people and the world).

But perhaps Dr. Gardner’s greatest contribution to humanity is that he helped shine light on why some “smart” people, people with high IQs (those with high verbal/linguistic intelligence and/or logical/mathematical intelligence) fail miserably at work and in life. He found they simply did not possess a high enough level of interpersonal intelligence and/or intrapersonal intelligence. Together, interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences make up emotional intelligence.

Others who have contributed greatly to the study of emotional intelligence include early pioneers Peter Salovey and John Mayer, as well as Daniel Goleman (who delineated five components of emotional intelligence), and Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, authors of the popular book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and co-founders of TalentSmart. This book popularized the measure of emotional intelligence, which is called the “Emotional Quotient” or “EQ.” (Bradberry is very active on LinkedIn. Follow him!) If you’re interested in exploring the topic further, I highly recommend the teachings of all these individuals, whose collective body of work has helped us better understand and appreciate the many facets of emotional intelligence.

Now back to defining emotional intelligence. A widely accepted and one of the more straightforward definitions of EI is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and it is your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.

Sounds simple enough, right?

On the contrary, emotional intelligence is among the most complex and difficult topics to appropriately address, because its development opportunities are everywhere and the possibilities for how emotional intelligence can be demonstrated are limitless. And the stakes, especially if you are a businesswoman, are high.

According to the Center for Creative Leadership, researchers estimate that success at work is 80-90 percent EQ (interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences), and only 10-20 percent IQ (verbal/linguistic and logical/mathematical intelligences). What this means is that being “bright” is simply not enough. And it’s certainly not enough for most businesses today, which are becoming increasingly sophisticated and complex. Having a team of people with high IQs alone just doesn’t cut it.

Yet, there is hope for all of us, no matter how high or low our emotional intelligence!

Out of all the intelligences, the only ones you can expand beyond what you are born with are the two that make up your emotional intelligence—interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences. That’s not the case with IQ. If your IQ is 96, it’s not going to get higher no matter how hard you try. You can still optimize what you do have, but there are limits. Contrast that to your emotional intelligence or the measure of your emotional intelligence, your EQ. You can keep getting emotionally “smarter” every day, if that’s your desire! There is no limit to how much you can expand your emotional intelligence.

Plus, the more you develop your emotional intelligence, you will strengthen all these other crucial skills that make life easier and more enjoyable: accountability, change openness, customer service, communication, confidence, decision making, empathy, flexibility, social grace, stress reduction, teamwork, time management, and trust.

But there are even more perks. If you are someone who frequently develops and uses her emotional intelligence in a positive way day in and day out, you can pat yourself on the back for experiencing these well-researched and validated benefits: your physical health improves because you respond better to stress; your mental health and wellbeing improve because you have a happier outlook and more positive attitude; your relationships with your colleagues and others become stronger and more fulfilling; and conflicts become easier to perceive, produce less stress, and are easier to resolve.

The truth of the matter is this: when you use your emotional intelligence in a positive way, it puts you in the drivers’ seat so you achieve the best possible outcomes, most consistently, at work, and in life!

Cheryl O’Donoghue, MS is the author of three books focusing on emotional intelligence leadership, including the newly released How to Be an Emotionally Intelligent Leader and the 2019 release of the popular How to Be a Woman in Technology. As Founder of Emotional Intelligence (Ei) Leadership Resources (, she works with organizations and the individuals in them to transform corporate cultures through proven Ei practices, training and tools. Cheryl is also co-founder and president of the nonprofit, Mission Sisters Who Work ( Mission Sisters helps women in business and STEM to close the gender gap, taking the reins in their own careers with empowerment training, support and scholarships.